Monday, 25 January 2016

Book Review: All That Is Lost Between Us by Sara Foster

All That Is Lost Between Us
Sara Foster
Simon and Schuster 2016

Domestic thriller writer Sara Foster returns in 2016 with her fourth novel, which might just be her best yet, though it would be a close call between this novel and her second, Beneath the Shadows.  All That is Lost Between Us is the story of Anya, a school counsellor at a prestigious Lake District school in the UK, and her daughter Georgia who is a budding champion fell-runner.  Georgia has a secret, but when a car accident puts her cousin in the hospital, the entire family is forced to realise that sometimes keeping secrets can do more harm than good.

The story is told in a multitude of voices; Georgia, her brother Zac, her father Callum, and Anya, though it is only Anya's parts which are told in first person.  While it is Georgia whose actions set a lot of the plot into motion, it is Anya who is the driving personality behind the story, and who lends her perspective to the themes surrounding motherhood which are developed throughout the plot.  Anya's job as a counsellor means that she is responsible for the mental well being of a number of students, but this can sometimes mean that she is distant from what is going on in her own family.  When the central crisis of the book kicks off, everyone begins to realise just how much they have drifted, particularly Anya and Callum whose relationship has cooled to the point of both people feeling like the other is a stranger.  Callum's volunteer job as a member of a rescue team means he also has a great deal of responsibility to others, but his job also involves long hours and an element of danger.  The danger comes not only from the elements but from Danielle, a woman he feels attracted to from the moment she joins his team.  Though Callum and Danielle both acknowledge that there is something between them, the accidental which puts his niece in the hospital and threatens his daughter shows Callum that he needs to fight his way back to the family.  But is is the voice of Zac which is most compelling.  A teenage boy, a typical little brother, Zac spends a lot of his time playing video games with friends, and feels the pressure of not being particularly cool.  He is a compassionate character, and the accident and subsequent worry everyone begins to feel about Georgia weighs on Zac.  When he discovers something that might expose Georgia's secret, Zac becomes a central player in how the story will resolve itself, but I will let the reader find out just how for themselves.

This book is a real page turner, and it gets the moments of tension just right.  In the hands of a less skilled writer, perhaps the novel might have strayed into melodrama, but Foster has kept a stern control of her moments of tension, leaving the story beautifully paced and impossible to put down.  There were a few loose ends, such as the looming presence of the man whose son Callum rescues on the fells, but they didn't detract from the story too much.  I really enjoyed this book and devoured it in a day.

I gave it four and a half stars.

You can meet Sara Foster at an event at the Bookcaffe in Swanbourne on Tuesday the 9th of February 2015.  For more details, see the event page.  

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Introducing (RE)Sisters- YA Short Fiction Anthology from For Books' Sake

Now available for pre-order, the latest anthology from For Books' Sake will be available in February 2016.  The collection features stories of empowerment, revolution, escape, and most importantly, Rebel Girls!

Most excitingly, this will be my print debut, as my story 'A Thousand Words' has been selected for the collection.

You can pre-order your copy here.

The collection has been edited by For Books' Sake co-founder, Jane Bradley.

For Books' Sake is an organisation based in the United Kingdom who aim to empower women of all backgrounds through the work that they publish.   You can learn more about them here.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

First Review for 2016: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
Anna North
Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2015 (I own a copy courtesy of the publisher)

With a title like "The Life and Death of Sophie Stark", there will be no prizes for guessing what this book will be about.  But what is striking about this remarkable book is not the story that it tells but the way it tells it.  Sophie Stark, enigmatic film director, is represented to the reader through the testimonies of those who knew her, with each chapter forming in its way a short story.  Only two of the voices are given more than one opportunity to speak, and the portrait of Sophie which emerges is fragmented and not always flattering.  Yet the overall impression given by each voice is that Sophie is the kind of person who inspires fierce love in those around her; and given the trouble she seems to cause wherever she goes, this speaks of a very special character indeed.

The book begins with Allison, a young woman who performs a scary story at an open mike night and is afterwards approached by Sophie who wants to turn her story into a film.  Allison has adapted her story from a real life experience, a secret she later confides in Sophie after they begin an affair.  Sophie is drawn to Allison and wants her to star in the movie.  It is through her unorthodox direction that both the movie and Allison become big hits.  But this journey is not without consequences, and this initial story sets in motion a repeating pattern of Sophie collecting tales from the people who love her and leaving behind heartbreak and hurt.  She is like a magpie when it comes to stories, and this lends the narrative a sort of repeating pattern.  In each chapter, a story is told, which becomes a movie in another chapter.  Aside from the first and second chapters, this happens in a linear fashion, and the odd choice to start with the story of Sophie's second film rather than her first (a documentary about a college basketball star Sophie stalks named Daniel) becomes apparent later in the book when the reader realises that it is Allison who is most profoundly changed by her time with Sophie.

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is written in clear, sometimes brutal prose, which lends it a kind of honesty and clarity that other novels of this kind tend to lack.  At no moment does the reader feel like the character's 'Otherness' is being held over them.  Sophie simply is, and as such her story is told simply and well.  Several lines left me running for a notepad to jot down, to inspire me in my own writing.  Purple prose has no place in this amazing novel.

There are five voices in this book: Allison, Robbie, Jacob, Daniel and George.  Though the story is of Sophie's life, she is never given the opportunity to tell her story in her own words, though at times through dialogue with other characters she reveals that she is drawn to film-making because of an inability to communicate what she really feels with other people.  Certain aspects of Sophie's personality make me wonder if she is perhaps on the autism spectrum somewhere, but I am no doctor so I'm simply making a guess.  Interspersed with the chapters, the author has included reviews of Sophie's films written by a fictional journalist named Ben, who we see from the titles of his work is making his way up in the world each time Sophie makes a new film.  While he frequently describes Sophie's work as amateur or imperfect, he also remarks on her ability to move people.  If it is Sophie's aim to use her films as a way of making connections with other people she is succeeding and it is only a shame that this communication can never go two-way.  It seems like the more fame Sophie is given, the more alone she feels.

The result of all this is The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, a book that has been raved about online and which I devoured in a few days.  It's been a great reading start to 2016 and I only hope that this review has done Anna North's writing justice.  I have only one thing to add, and that is:

More, please.